The case of Glory Bassey, a 31-year-old woman from Akwa Ibom state in Southern Nigeria demonstrates the destructive effects of witchcraft beliefs in Nigeria and the threat which the continued belief in occult forces poses to the lives and well being of the people if these mystical notions are not challenged, debunked and dispelled.
To the ‘enlightened’, witchcraft may appear an innocuous belief, which people entertain or use for ‘entertainment’. However, in Nigeria, witchcraft is a serious issue, a ‘threatening reality’, an idiom which many people use to interpret their experiences particularly misfortunes such as sickness and deaths. Accusations constitute forms of death sentence because people do not stop at deploying the narratives of witchcraft to define their tragic experiences, they go further to take action against the alleged witches. Accusers attack, kill or eliminate alleged witches in a brutal manner. So it is in the case of Glory Bassey.
Bassey is reported to have killed her father after accusing him of being responsible for the death of her mother, her two late husbands, and five children. People in Nigeria find multiple cases of death strange and extraordinary particularly when they happen to a person, in a family and within a short period of time. There is the tendency to ask that popular question which anthropologists have often referred to: Why me? With the question, ‘why me?’, people who suffer misfortune often take a leap into the occult world.
They often think that a magical force might be behind these occurrences and the person who is directly or indirectly associated with or believed to be the magical force behind these misfortunes is believed to be a vicious individual and is often dealt with without compassion.
Prior to the violent confrontation, Bassey went to the grave of the late mother to ask her for solutions to her problems. The mother ‘appeared’ to her in a dream and revealed that the father was responsible for all her problems. Bassey then confronted her father and in the course of the encounter, she hit him with a stick and he later died as a result of the injuries that he sustained.
As in similar cases of witchcraft accusation that happen in this region, Bassey has made the father a scape goat by putting all the blame on him. She never paused to think if a person could actually kill another through occult means. She never bothered to ask: “What would my father gain by killing the wife, the sons in law and the grandchildren? Unfortunately, the ‘logic’ of witchcraft does not allow such critical thinking and reflection.
Hence, it is critical to identify and challenge various misconceptions, which inform accusations of witchcraft in this case and in other supposed cases of occult harm.
First of all, there is a notion among Nigerians that occult forces are responsible for misfortunes. This notion is invoked particularly when there are multiple cases of misfortune. Nigerians need to be enlightened and re-oriented to know that this is a mistaken idea that has no basis in reason or in reality. It is quite understandable that the shock of suffering such tragedies could trigger a flight away from common sense to the uncommon and irrational realm.
However, the abandonment of reason only gives legitimacy to absurdities which could make persons to commit criminal and atrocious crimes as Bassey did.
Also baseless is the idea of talking to the dead. I mean why talk to the dead or better why claim that a dead person has spoken to you? One of the reasons why we declare people dead is that we can no longer communicate with them, or they with us. Just as people who are dead are not capable of talking, they are also unable to hear us because they are dead. So talking to them is a futile venture, and a waste of time.
In addition, dead people cannot talk back to us directly on the graveyard or indirectly through dreams. People across Nigeria and Africa need to abandon this supposition and religions that give credence to such mistaken notions by laying claim to divine revelation should be critically examined.
To see people in the dream is not as a result of any direct encounter or communication with the individuals in question. It has nothing to do with reality, the real persons per se but everything to do with our inner desires, imaginings and anxieties, the operations of our psychological states, the conscious and sub conscious faculties.
A massive enlightenment campaign is needed to dispel these misconceptions that inform allegations of witchcraft. Nigeria needs educational programs that target young people and get them to freely think and question all beliefs and narratives that are used to interpret misfortune.
However we can only achieve this historic enlightenment if the Nigerian society begins to encourage critical evaluation of ALL religious, cultural and traditional claims.